Skip to content
Science

Record-breaking fast radio burst offers path to weigh the Universe

Macquarie University 6 mins read

An eight-billion-year-old burst of energy has been discovered, demonstrating that we can detect and measure matter between galaxies. The discovery opens a path to using fast radio bursts to explore the expansion of the Universe and ultimately even ‘weigh’ the Universe.

But it will require even more powerful telescopes.

In a paper published today in Science, a global team led by Macquarie University’s Dr Stuart Ryder and Swinburne University of Technology’s Associate Professor Ryan Shannon, report on their discovery of the most ancient and distant fast radio burst located to date, about eight billion years old.

The discovery smashes the team’s previous record by 50 per cent. It confirms that fast radio bursts (FRBs) can be used to measure the “missing” matter between galaxies.

The source of the burst was shown to be a group of two or three galaxies that are merging, supporting current theories on the cause of fast radio bursts. The team also showed that eight billion years is about as far back as we can expect to see and pinpoint fast radio bursts with current telescopes.

On 10 June 2022, CSIRO’s ASKAP radio telescope on Wajarri Yamaji Country was used to detect a fast radio burst, created in a cosmic event that released, in milliseconds, the equivalent of our Sun’s total emission over 30 years. 

“Using ASKAP’s array of dishes, we were able to determine precisely where the burst came from,” says Dr Ryder, the first author on the paper. “Then we used the European Southern Observatory (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile to search for the source galaxy, finding it to be older and further away than any other FRB source found to date, and likely within a small group of merging galaxies.”

Named FRB 20220610A, the fast radio burst has reaffirmed the concept of weighing the Universe using data from FRBs. This was first demonstrated by the late Australian astronomer Jean-Pierre ‘J-P’ Macquart in a paper in Nature in 2020.

“J-P showed that the further away a fast radio burst is, the more diffuse gas it reveals between the galaxies,” says Dr Ryder. “This is now known as the Macquart relation. Some recent fast radio bursts appeared to break this relationship. Our measurements confirm the Macquart relation holds out to beyond half the known Universe.”

About 50 FRBs have been pinpointed to date – nearly half using ASKAP. The authors suggest we should be able to detect thousands of them across the sky, and at even greater distances.

“While we still don’t know what causes these massive bursts of energy, the paper confirms that fast radio bursts are common events in the cosmos and that we will be able to use them to detect matter between galaxies, and better understand the structure of the Universe,” says Associate Professor Shannon.  

And we will soon have the tools to do so. ASKAP is currently the best radio telescope to detect and locate FRBs. The international SKA telescopes now under construction in Western Australia and South Africa will be even better at allowing astronomers to locate even older and more distant FRBs. The nearly 40-metre mirror of ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope, currently under construction in the high, dry Chilean desert will then be needed to study their source galaxies.

The project was a world-wide effort with researchers from ASTRON (Netherlands), Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (Chile), Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Japan), SKA Observatory (UK), Northwestern University, UC Berkeley, and UC Santa Cruz (USA).

Australian participants were Macquarie University, Swinburne University of Technology, CSIRO, ICRAR/Curtin University, ASTRO 3D, and University of Sydney.

Current methods of estimating the mass of the Universe are giving conflicting answers and challenging the standard model of cosmology.

“If we count up the amount of normal matter in the Universe – the atoms that we are all made of – we find that more than half of what should be there today is missing,” says Associate Professor Shannon.

“We think that the missing matter is hiding in the space between galaxies, but it may just be so hot and diffuse that it's impossible to see using normal techniques.

“Fast radio bursts sense this ionised material. Even in space that is nearly perfectly empty they can ‘see’ all the electrons, and that allows us to measure how much stuff is between the galaxies.”

CSIRO's ASKAP radio telescope is situated at Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, the CSIRO Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia, about 800 kilometres north of Perth. 

Currently, 16 countries are partners in the SKA Observatory, which is building two radio telescopes. SKA-Low (the low frequency telescope) – at the same site as ASKAP – will comprise 131,072 two-metre-tall antennas, while SKA-Mid (the mid frequency telescope) in South Africa will comprise 197 dishes.

The Very Large Telescope (VLT) has four eight-metre mirrors and is operated by the European Southern Observatory, located on Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. Australia is a strategic partner of ESO, giving Australian astronomers access to the VLT and the opportunity to contribute new technologies to it.

Australian astronomers are also hoping to gain access to ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope when it starts operation later this decade. The ELT will be able to deliver images 15 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope.

Media Contacts

Fran Molloy, +61 412 485 677, fran.molloy@mq.edu.au

Niall Byrne, +61 417 131 977, niall@scienceinpublic.com.au

A copy of this release will be available post-embargo at mq.edu.au/newsroom.

The paper is at 10.1126/science.adf2678.

Abstract and author list

A luminous fast radio burst that probes the Universe at redshift 1

Stuart D. Ryder1,2, Keith W. Bannister3, S. Bhandari4,5, A. T. Deller6, R. D. Ekers3,7, Marcin Glowacki7, Alexa C. Gordon8, Kelly Gourdji6, C. W. James7,
Charles D. Kilpatrick8, Wenbin Lu9, Lachlan Marnoch1,2,3,10, V. A. Moss3,
J. Xavier Prochaska11,12,13, Hao Qiu14, Elaine M. Sadler15,3, Sunil Simha11, Mawson W. Sammons7, Danica R. Scott7, Nicolas Tejos16, R. M. Shannon6.

1School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Macquarie University, NSW 2109, Australia
2Astronomy, Astrophysics and Astrophotonics Research Centre, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia

3Australia Telescope National Facility, CSIRO, Space and Astronomy, PO Box 76, Epping, NSW 1710, Australia

4ASTRON, Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, Oude Hoogeveensedijk 4, 7991 PD Dwingeloo, The Netherlands

5Joint institute for VLBI ERIC, Oude Hoogeveensedijk 4, 7991 PD Dwingeloo, The Netherlands

6Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn,VIC 3122, Australia

7International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy,
Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia.

8Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA) and Department of Physics and Astronomy, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA

9Departments of Astronomy and Theoretical Astrophysics Center, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA

10 ARC Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D), Australia

11 Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA

12 Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe, 5-1-5 Kashiwanoha, Kashiwa, 277-8583, Japan

13Simons Pivot Fellow

14SKA Observatory, Jodrell Bank, Lower Withington, Macclesfield, SK11 9FT, UK

15Sydney Institute for Astronomy, School of Physics A28, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia

16Instituto de Fisica, Pontificia Universidad Cato ́lica de Valpara ́ıso, Casilla 4059, Valpara ́ıso, Chile
To whom correspondence should be addressed; E-mail: rshannon@swin.edu.au.

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are millisecond-duration pulses of radio emission originating from extragalactic

distances. Radio dispersion is imparted on each burst by intervening plasma, mostly located in the

intergalactic medium. In this work, we observe the burst FRB 20220610A and localize it to a morphologically

complex host galaxy system at redshift 1.016 ± 0.002. The burst redshift and dispersion measure are

consistent with passage through a substantial column of plasma in the intergalactic medium and extend the

relationship between those quantities measured at lower redshift. The burst shows evidence for passage

through additional turbulent magnetized plasma, potentially associated with the host galaxy. We use the

burst energy of 1042 erg to revise the empirical maximum energy of an FRB.

Images

Artist’s impression of a record-breaking fast radio burst: https://www.eso.org/~mkornmes/sci_Ryder_VLT_record.jpg 

This artist’s impression (not to scale) illustrates the path of the fast radio burst FRB 20220610A, from the distant galaxy where it originated all the way to Earth, in one of the Milky Way’s spiral arms. The source galaxy of FRB 20220610A, pinned down thanks to ESO’s Very Large Telescope, appears to be located within a small group of interacting galaxies. It’s so far away its light took eight billion years to reach us, making FRB 20220610A the most distant fast radio burst found to date.

Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Alt text: In this artist’s impression, three cream and pink coloured galaxies are jumbled together in the upper left corner. From this group, a bright yellow streak points towards the bottom right, where it intersects with a dot on a spiral arm of the Milky Way. The Milky Way, with a glowing white centre and blue-purple spiral arms, stands out against the black background faintly speckled with distant galaxies.

 


Contact details:

Fran Molloy, +61 412 485 677, fran.molloy@mq.edu.au

Niall Byrne, +61 417 131 977, niall@scienceinpublic.com.au

Tom Carruthers, +61 404 404 026, tom@scienceinpublic.com.au 

Media

More from this category

  • Science
  • 28/02/2024
  • 11:00
Monash University

Monash expert: Three record low Antarctic sea ice summers in the past three years

A Monash University expert from the Securing Antarctica's Environmental Future research group is available to comment on the three record low Antarctic sea ice summers over the past three years, highlighting what could be a critical transition for Antarctic sea ice Dr Ariaan Purich, Lecturer in the School of Earth Atmosphere and Environment, Faculty of Science, Monash UniversityContact: +61 3 9903 4840 or media@monash.edu or ariaan.purich@monash.eduRead more of Dr Purich’s commentary at Monash Lens The following can be attributed to Dr Purich: “In February 2023, Antarctic sea ice extent broke the record minimum, set only a year earlier in February…

  • Environment, Science
  • 28/02/2024
  • 08:35
Parliament of Australia

New inquiry into Antarctica

TheJoint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territorieswill examine theimportance of Antarctica to Australia’s national interestin a new inquiry launched today. Committee Chair,Alicia Payne MP, said, “Australia has a proud history as an Antarctic leader. The Australian Antarctic Territory covers approximately 42 per cent of the continent and Australia plays a significant role in maintaining the continent for peace, scientific exploration, and environmental protection.” “Australia’s ongoing and future commitments in Antarctica are now more important than ever. Australia has a responsibility to itself and the international community to remain a strong advocate for Antarctica through its domestic and…

  • Engineering, Science
  • 28/02/2024
  • 08:30
UNSW Sydney

Making light work! Researchers create synthetic methane using only the sun

Engineers at UNSW have developed a way to produce a synthetic fuel from carbon dioxide using only sunlight. The research team’s process involves utilising light and heat to induce a reaction which creates synthetic methane from CO₂. Their research, published inEES Catalysis, could help to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. “Methane is the major component of natural gas, and already widely used as a source of fuel, but is also a powerful greenhouse gas. Creating synthetic methane using only the natural resource of the sun is a cleaner and greener alternative for usage in heavy transportation, shipping, and other specific…

Media Outreach made fast, easy, simple.

Feature your press release on Medianet's News Hub every time you distribute with Medianet. Pay per release or save with a subscription.